Old Sleepy Eye Collectors Club dedicated to preserving history

By Chad Ries

The Old Sleepy Eye Collectors Club of America was founded in 1976 to preserve the heritage of the Old Sleepy Eye Flour Mill and collectible advertising items that were created by the mill.

Old Sleepy Eye metal sign: “Sleepy Eye” The Meritorious Flour.The Old Sleepy Eye Collectors Club of America was founded in 1976 to preserve the heritage of the Old Sleepy Eye Flour Mill and collectible advertising items that were created by the mill. Photo courtesy Old Sleepy Eye Collectors Club of America

The first flour mill was built in 1883. While sources disagree on the ownership of the original mill, sources do agree that the second mill was built in 1902 under president A.C. VonHagen.

The mill boasted many improvements that were considered advanced for its day. The well, which was dug in 1892, produced 20,000 gallons of water in 24 hours. In 1901, the mill enlarged its copper shop, added more railroad tracks, installed power machinery and built a 125-foot high elevator. In 1902, a 175-foot high chimney was built using 350,000 bricks. Also, during 1901-1902 the mill’s main drive shaft was installed using 562 hides to create a 200-foot-long belt; vertical belts with steps took employees floor to floor.

In 1909, the mill went into receivership while VonHagen was president. He blamed the government for the failure; others blamed him for unwise investments. The mill once owned 27 elevators in two states, a vacation home in the country and a launch on Sleepy Eye Lake.

In 1914 much of the machinery was moved out of Sleepy Eye and the mill reopened with offices in Minneapolis. In 1915 the original mill building was torn down and 1917 saw the bondholders sell the mill to Kansas Flour Mills.

In 1921, the flour mill had its final closing. The remaining mill building has had several owners since then. The current owner of the mill building, Bob Pelzel, was generous enough to invite the 2008 Sleepy Eye Convention attendees on a tour and historical information seminar at the mill building.

Chief Sleepy Eye (Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba)

Chief Sleepy Eye lived from 1780 to 1860, and was nicknamed “sleepy eye” because of his heavily lidded eyes. His people made their home by Sleepy Eye Lake in 1857, which was originally called “Pretty Water By The Big Trees.” He was Chief from about 1825 until his death in 1860.

Old Sleepy Eye Flemish salt bowl (left) and butter crock (right), 1903.  Old Sleepy Eye Flemish salt bowl (left) and butter crock (right), 1903.

Urged by a priest, VonHagen promoted a search for Chief Sleepy Eye’s remains, which were found in 1890 and interned beneath the monument dedicated Oct. 17, 1902, in Sleepy Eye, Minn. The monument bears a likeness of the chief from a painting of him made in 1824. Interestingly, the mill’s trademark is not his portrait.

Collectible Items from Old Sleepy Eye Flour Mill

At the turn of the 20th century, the Old Sleepy Eye Flour Mill released several promotional items. A letter opener was released in 1900, followed by a 22-inch by 22-inch pictorial pillow top and possibly Red Wing pottery mugs in 1901. Calendars (and possibly fans) were released in 1902, and 1903 saw gray and blue Flemish ware (two shipments of 500,000 pieces each) from Weir Pottery of Monmouth, Ill., including salt bowls, butter crocks, vases and steins. Caps for men and boys, as well as nine different post cards, were introduced in 1904.

Other Old Sleepy Eye promotional items released by the flour mill (dates unknown) include colored silk flour sacks, cookbooks, match holders, 10 advertising cards, silver-plated spoons, 15-inch rulers, bread board scrapers, busts of trademark heads, Damask linen tablecloths, bolting silk used in refining flour (120 x 160 threads by square inch) and others.

After the Old Sleepy Eye Flour Mill closed, Western Stoneware produced a line of Sleepy Eye pottery mugs and pitchers. This line is sometimes referred to as “blue and white.” Also produced were steins and vases in various shades of brown, green and blue.

Old Sleepy Eye Collectors Club of America History

Old Sleepy Eye Flemish vase (left) and stein (right), both released in 1903.  Old Sleepy Eye Flemish vase (left) and stein (right), both released in 1903.

Amid the idyllic setting of the Martin farm near Monmouth, Ill., a small group of Old Sleepy Eye collectors met in January 1976 to discuss the formation of a club. By the end of the meeting, The Old Sleepy Eye Collectors Club of America Inc. was formed and soon after chartered as a non-profit organization. Monmouth is the home of the Western Stoneware Co., which had produced most of the Old Sleepy Eye pottery for the Sleepy Eye Milling Co.

On March 24, 1976, the newly formed Old Sleepy Eye Collectors Club of America published its first newsletter, written and edited by founding member Dick Reed. Additionally, on that day, the first official club membership was issued to Howard Cooper of Monmouth, Ill., followed shortly thereafter Jim and Patti Martin, and E.W. Kolbe of Sleepy Eye, Minn. Since that humble beginning, the club has grown throughout the years.

2012 OSECCA Convention Information

 

The Old Sleepy Eye Collectors Club of America now has several hundred active members across the United States. Each year the club holds a convention where members can see rare items, meet others who have similar collecting interests and buy or sell items at auction. The 2012 convention will be held July 26-28 at the Holiday Inn Des Moines Airport, 6111 Fleur Dr., Des Moines, IA 50321 (phone 515-287-2400 or 800-248-4013 for hotel reservations).

Old Sleepy Eye Flemish blue and white pitcher by Western Stoneware. Old Sleepy Eye Flemish blue and white pitcher by Western Stoneware.

This year’s convention events will include the exhibition and trade of Old Sleepy Eye items, seminars, tours, the annual club business meeting and banquet, the auction and the 2012 Limited Edition Commemorative. Only registered convention attendees are entitled to receive a Commemorative, and all those attending the convention must be OSECC members.

For more information on becoming a member of the Old Sleepy Eye Collectors Club, call secretary-treasurer Jill Haala at 507-249-4900.

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